Ignore The Reporter. Just State Your Message.

A few times a month, I meet new clients who tell me that a previous media trainer advised them to ignore reporters’ questions and just state their messages instead.

That advice is downright reckless, and I’m always stunned to hear that some media trainers still spout that nonsense. I know many of our media training competitors, and none of them recommend that approach. So where, exactly, is this coming from? (That’s an honest question – I really don’t know who is still selling that advice).

Perhaps it’s the lingering remnants of outdated media training advice from the 1970s and 1980s. Regardless of its source, it’s a still too-prevalent view that needs to be mercilessly stomped out of existence.

On this past Sunday’s Meet the Press, Michele Bachmann offered a perfect case study for why it’s a bad idea to ignore the questions.

Ms. Bachmann clearly came into the interview with this message: That President Obama “deceptively put” $105 billion dollars into his health care legislation and needs to give it back to the American people.

But she repeated that message eight times in five minutes, not even making the slightest pretense to answer the host’s questions:

David Gregory: “Are you willing to vote to shut down the government over some of these add-ons to these spending bills, to defund funding for the health care legislation, for Planned Parenthood, for the EPA?”
Michele Bachmann: “I think this deception that the President and Pelosi and Reid put forward with appropriating over $105 billion dollars needs to be given back to the people…”
Mr. Gregory: “Congresswoman, my question is a very direct one. Will you vote to shut down the government over those riders?”
Ms. Bachmann: “I think that President Obama needs to give back that $105 billion that they already appropriated.”

Ms. Bachmann could have very easily answered the question in a word or two before transitioning back to her message. And instead of simply parroting the same words eight times, she could have used different words to express the same idea. She lacked the deft touch required to remain on message without appearing evasive.

It’s unfortunate that Ms. Bachmann took this approach, because she did a perfectly good job of answering Mr. Gregory’s questions when she didn’t use that technique.

Most of the media trainers I know would agree with this advice: Don’t pull a Bachmann. Answer the question, but quickly and in a manner that does no harm. Then – and only then – transition to your message.

Related: Be On Message. But Not Like This Guy.
Related: Michele Bachmann’s Odd Tea Party Response